Step Back – Think – Then Think Again! Do we spend enough time thinking about what might be going on, rather than responding to how we feel about it? Here’s a piece of casework I was involved in and I believe it has some strong messages for organisations, leaders and managers. Expressed values are one thing, lived values are another and if our behaviours are not in tune with our expressed values we are in danger of creating a “toxic gap.” And it’s a gap bridged by a spider’s web of half-truths, inconsistency and false assumption: it has the potential to ensnare everyone.
A familiar enough call, “John, we could do with a piece of coaching from you, we have a team member whose performance has dipped, the relationship with the line manager has crashed and we’re looking at Performance Management if we can’t turn this around. This person’s been with us for over 23 years and things have been fine, quite honestly we’re confused about what might be going on here. What do you think?”
I met with the client, in an initial “scoping” conversation to establish how the person felt about coaching that had been initiated by an assumption that they were underperforming. We chatted about work, previous roles and successes. It seemed pretty clear to me that this person had been a high value employee. We talked about the nature of trust, the value of honesty and the importance of fulfilment in the workplace. It was a good conversation that became increasingly relaxed.
Risk time! Time for me to ask the “crunch question,” and it’s generally couched as: “So, what’s changed and how do you feel about it?” The answer threw me somewhat. “My line manager … uses the same intonations and has similar body language as a former partner … who tried to strangle me and left me for dead.”
“How long ago was this and have you spoken to anyone else about it?”
“Only a Priest, not long after it happened, it was over twenty years ago …”
At this point we’d navigated our way through one of the more challenging parts of the process: we had together created a “safe space” within which disclosure could happen. This is however only one of the challenge elements, the next is agreeing the next step.
Eventually it was agreed that I would speak to HR who had by the end of the day, arranged for a contact with a Counsellor and looked at the viability of a transfer within the organisation, eventually leading to a positive outcome for those directly involved and for the organisation.
What has this to do with Leadership and those of us in Leadership roles? Here are a few “thought starters” to consider:
1. How many opportunities do we give ourselves to step back from a deteriorating situation and ask ourselves “What might be happening?” rather than making decisions through the often too tightly focussed lens of Performance?
2. How frequently do we reflect on our own behaviours and consider the gap between the messages we think we are transmitting and what is actually being received by others?
3. How might our own biases impact on our assessments and judgements?
4. What’s the bigger picture here, what else are we seeing, hearing, feeling about this situation/relationship?
5. Is ego getting in the way of doing the right thing? Are we scared of being judged as over emotional, weak or “too close to the team”?
6. Are we prone, even in our internal dialogue, to using expressions like “snowflake,” “entitled,” or “safe space,” in a manner that has its foundations in sneering mockery and saves us the discomfort of actually thinking things through?
7. If we are unhappy and or uncertain about the above, would we share our feelings? Is this something my organisation encourages us to do and supports us in so doing?
The above is a sort of “Magnificent Seven” of personal reflection that might steer our thought processes in sometimes difficult and potentially emotionally charged circumstances.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that those of us who appear to be coping, are robust and seemingly unflappable, aresometimes masking extreme personal challenges in an effective way and that there are occasions when overwhelming memories are triggered by the behaviour(s) of others. There is a subsequent impact on performance, happiness and wellbeing and this often extends into several dimensions of their lives.
A closing few words about Values Statements.
“Values Statements” will often include an item couched as follows:
“We value our workforce, and their well-being is important to us”
If this is to have any “meaning beyond the page”, we have to be seen to behave in a manner that is consistent with our published values. To do otherwise breeds detached cynicism and can leave individuals at risk because of misplaced assumptions that are likely to exacerbate an already challenging situation. We need to discuss their meaning and to consider the adjustments we may need to make to our thoughtprocesses and behaviours to better enable us to develop and model our compassion acting in a positive pro-social manner as we do so.